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Infrared film is an interesting beast, and Macophot IR820C
is no exception. This article explores the process of speed rating it for development
in PMK Pyro, determining a suitable developing time for it, making note of its
handling and staining characteristics, creating a few "characteristic curves"
for it, and finally using it with a live model. The ultimate goal is
to determine if it is a suitable film for shooting the nude, since it's long
been a desire of mine to do a series of nude studies (tentatively titled "Body
Heat") using infrared film. The effect I'm after (having seen some of
Teresa Airey's excellent infrared nudes and having had an opportunity to discuss
her work with her) is that of a glowing, radiant form. Indeed, there are also
probably two dozen excellent B&W nudes in Jock Sturges' book Radiant
Identities that also capture the spirit of what I'm looking to shoot.
My selection of Pyro as a developing
agent for such a series reflects a number of strong personal biases and interests.
First, I use PMK Pyro as my primary portrait developer, and I particularly like
the subtle tonal effects possible with PMK in zones IV-VIII – where it tends not
to get as much press as in the "extreme" tonal zones of I-II and X-XVIII.
I'm also a big fan of the inherent acutance and edge effects of the PMK formula.
I also am aware of pyro's remarkable high tone separation, and although I don't
realistically anticipate going over the top of Zone X in shooting the nude, I'd
like to know that my VII's, VIII's, and IX's are solid – particularly when I know
that there's a good chance that my skin tones, by virtue of being recorded on
infrared, are likely going to drift out the top of Zone VI. Finally, to my knowledge,
nobody's done it before – so I get the thrill that comes with novelty.
The first step in the project was choosing a film. And at the risk of admitting that my selection was pretty much done at random, it was.
Ilford and Konica both make IR films; but neither was in stock in both 35mm
cassettes and 120 rolls at my local distributor. And although my out-of-town
distributor was ready to mail me any of the above (and in any size) instead
of Macophot, I elected to go with it for the simple reason that I'd never even
heard of it. I figured I'd learn more by fiddling with film from a manufacturer
about whom I knew nothing.
My first observation about it
was that it was manufactured in Germany – and my instincts told me that the part
of Germany in which it was made is the half that used to be East Germany. It
had all the physical feel of a thick emulsion, high gelatin content film that
countries west of the iron curtain stopped making in about 1955. This is not
necessarily a bad thing, since a great deal of what makes the pyro process special
is the stain; and stains are more pronounced on heavy, gelatin-rich films. For
example, although Ilford's "Delta" films are pretty decent films in
a lot of respects (and I do shoot them fairly regularly – which is saying a lot,
since I almost never shoot their Kodak "T-Max" equivalents), their emulsions
are so thin and their gelatin contents so low that coaxing a stain out of them
is an uphill battle all the way. So for all its heaviness – or perhaps because
of it – Macophot showed considerable promise the minute it came out of the box.
Things turned a little uglier
from there, since the first rolls I tried ended up in one of my Nikon F3's, and
the 35mm cassettes themselves bound up pretty badly. It felt as if the entire
cartridge were filled with sand, and the film advanced with an unpleasant grating
sound. It also took quite a bit of work to pull the stuff, and I suspect that
a whole lot of more modern (and consumer grade) cameras wouldn't have motors strong
enough to advance the stuff. It was that badly wound. This made me even more
suspicious that it was the product of an old communist factory in the east half
of Germany. Quality control was not looking terribly high from the start.
Step one of actually rating the
film was to determine its speed. The outside of the box said "ISO 100."
And no, I didn't believe it. Most films I've speed rated have shown true speeds
much below what the manufacturers will claim – even for "generic" developers
like D-76. And ISO 100 films run in pyro, in my experience, tend to exhibit true
speeds ranging from ISO 50 to ISO 80. I have yet to come across one that I actually
rated at the advertised ISO 100.
So I shot about half a dozen
frames of a test subject (two dolls with a MacBeth chart in the background) under
daylight conditions to see about where exposure was going to fall. Between "real"
frames, I shot a blank frame in order to have a reference of filmbase + fog that'd
be readily comparable to the genuine image. Here I was most interested in the
black cloth, the darkest black square on the MacBeth chart, and brunette doll's
hair. The matter of greatest interest to me was at what point Zones II and III
– the deepest greys and blacks – began to register above FB+F. I bracketed exposure
up and down two stops to see what the likely candidate speeds might be. I really
didn't expect the film to turn out to be faster than ISO 100, but it never
hurts to cover your bases.
A quick inspection of the negatives
told me that, indeed the film was slower than ISO 100, although probably by less
than a full stop. On my next attempt to assign a speed to it, I'd probably try
it at both ISO 64 and ISO 80. A cursory glance also told me that my initial guess
of 8 1/2 minutes developing time (I was starting with the time I usually use
for Ilford Delta 100 – another supposedly "ISO 100" film) was way too
That same cursory glance over
the first roll also confirmed my suspicions of lousy quality control at the manufacturer.
The film was heavily streaked with light leaks that'd obviously come from a poorly
made or loaded cartridge.
On my next attempt at shooting
a test roll, I decided to shoot 15 exposures of the same "MacBeth + cloth
+ dolls" scene at ISO 64. I'd then shoot 6 blank frames, and I'd finish
the 36 exposure roll by shooting 15 more shots of the tabletop scene at ISO 80.
I'd then cut the film in half, and then cut the halves in quarters, for a total
of eight pieces of film. From there, I loaded the films on four 35mm reels, with
each reel carrying one scrap of film that was shot at ISO 64 and one that was
shot at ISO 80.
I then mixed a fresh batch of PMK and set the darkroom timer
for 18 minutes, with the intent of removing one reel from the tank after 12
minutes had elapsed and then removing another reel every two minutes thereafter.
Thus, I'd end up with eight strips of film in the following combinations:
Shot at ISO 64, developed for 12 minutes
Shot at ISO 64, developed for 14 minutes
Shot at ISO 64, developed for 16 minutes
Shot at ISO 64, developed for 18 minutes
Shot at ISO 80, developed for 12 minutes
Shot at ISO 80, developed for 14 minutes
Shot at ISO 80, developed for 16 minutes
Shot at ISO 80, developed for 18 minutes
And I'd also end up with six
blank frames I could use as an FB+F reference.
As I suspected going into this
experiment, much beyond 15 minutes, the PMK was operating near the point of exhaustion.
(PMK is unlike most "traditional," highly active and aggressive pyro
formulae in that it is designed to exhaust itself in the course of developing.)
A few experiments with printing what looked to be the better negatives told me
that the actual film speed was probably in the low 70's (so I'd use either 64
or 80 as a nominal speed, depending on circumstance) and 17 minutes was a pretty
appropriate developing time. (Highlights in the negative seemed best in the 16
and 18 minute strips, but neither was a clear winner in that regard.)
One thing I should note here,
also, is that IR820 is, indeed, a high gelatin film. And as such, it takes about
as heavy a pyro stain as anything I've ever seen. It also has a very heavy blue
antihalation layer that gives it an odd characteristic color dry – and turns pre-soak
water a bright royal blue in development. Whether this blue filtration built
into the film is also there for adjustment of spectral response I don't know.
But I can't help but think that it may.
Having decided that Macophot
IR820 was about ISO 72 or so (and I'd probably be erring on the side of overexposure
by shooting it at ISO 64 most of the time) and that 17 minutes was a good developing
time, I decided to get some idea of what its characteristic curve might be. To
do this, I loaded up some 120 roll film in my 6x7 Pentax and pointed it at my
zone board. (I was also, honestly, curious if there was any difference in the
stain in 120 roll film and 35mm. I've noted that larger format films – even of
the same type – will tend to take a stain more readily. Perhaps this is because
in order to keep the film stiffer, the manufacturers use more gelatin in 120 than
35mm. But I've never had this suspicion confirmed, and perhaps it's entierly
my imagination, since I've never quatified this observation.)
What I discovered is that IR820
has a very long toe and a similarly soft shoulder. But I also question the absolute
validity of my measurement, since the light source for my zone board is a photoflood
which may not be as emissive (or may be more emissive) in the far IR than
natural daylight. I'm also not sure if the grey primer I used to paint my zone
board in a shade that my eye told me was "Zone V" is equally absorptive
in the IR as in the visible portion of the spectrum. So I concluded that the toe
and shoulder probably are indeed long, but that my drawing of the characteristic
curve might have to be revised when I find a way to do decent zone measurement
using a daylight source. I've got a few ideas now about how I might make a long
box with a slit in one end of it (and about how I might use it to measure "true"
response). But for now, knowing that the film speed is probably best set at ISO
64, that the developing time should be 17 minutes, and that the film has a long
toe and shoulder tells me enough to accomplish the goal at hand – shooting the
nude in infrared and developing in PMK Pyro.
What I also concluded from the
120 roll film experiment was that Macophot exhibits in the larger formats an extreme
tendency to curl. And as a curly film, I cut it down, put it in a negative file,
and pressed it into the back pages of a large, heavy book (which I knew to be
printed on acid-free paper). After about two days of pressing, the negatives
were good and flat.
The next logical step in the
process of experimentation was to use it with a live model. Fortunately, my pal
Sara was ready to assist me in that regard, and we set a date on a sunny Saturday
afternoon. Under normal circumstances, I'd prefer shooting in the early morning
or late afternoon. But since this was a film test first and foremost – and for
that matter a test of an infrared film – we chose to shoot at midday to maximize
the contrast from light to shadow and maximize color temperature. I didn't want
to overemphasize the IR effect by shooting earlier or later in the day and skewing
exposure heavily into the reds. Later I might try early morning or late afternoon
shooting of this film; but for now, 1 p.m. seemed like a better idea for the purpose
of this test.
Sara and I started shooting in
a clearing in the woods where there was a fair amount of flat rock that was once
a river bed. (They have dry river beds in Texas...) The rocks were generally
in Zones IV, V, and VI, and as such gave me a reference in the vicinity of the
Zone VI where skin tones naturally belong. They'd also been gathering sunlight
and getting warm all day, so they could be used to some extent as a thermal reference
to which to compare skin (assuming that they radiated in the infrared)..
For the most part, in a clearing in the woods on a somewhat
overcast day, I was seeing shadows that dipped to about Zone III naturally and
highlights that might have poked their heads into Zone VIII assuming the aforementioned
ISO 64 film speed and 17 minute developing time. Most of my exposures were
about f4 at 1/60th of a second.
I first shot a roll of Sara in
an orange bikini using IR820C, and I followed this up by shooting a roll of Ilford
Pan F as a reference. (I speed rate Pan F at about ISO 40 and process it for
9 minutes in PMK Pyro.)
Shots of Sara in the infrared
and the purely visible spectrum appear below. The thing I noticed most about
the two films in comparison was that there were really no strong blacks in the
IR820C negatives. This was in spite of the fact that in many respects, the IR820C
negatives turned out to be noticeably thinner overall than their Pan F cousins.
I attribute this to either the naturally long toe of the film or the fact that
I may have been placing zones too high with the IR820C because there was a lot
of light that neither my eye nor my light meter was seeing. My eye is good, but
it's not good down to 820nm.
The other thing I noticed – other
than the fact that yes, Sara had enough body heat to quite literally be radiant
– was that the tone of the orange bikini didn't register that differently on IR820C
and Pan F. Evidently, it was a little too high in frequency for an IR film to
take much notice of it, and the fabric blocked a lot of the IR coming off Sara
Sara then made a quick change into a red bikini and we shot
a few more frames before moving to a much more open section of the old river
Out in the open sun, I got a
few shots that showed that the red bikini was a good deal brighter on IR film
than a conventional film. For reference, I show a shot on IR820C, a shot
on Pan F, and one on Fujichrome Velvia (RVP50) and printed on Ilfochrome P30 paper
so that you can see what all the original colors really were.
My overall impression of IR820C
is that it is a 1950's "period piece" high gelatin film in a lot of
respects; but in Pyro it could have some very definite uses for shooting the nude.
The real film speed is probably about ISO 64 if shooting something that doesn't
radiate in the IR and more like about ISO 80 when shooting something that does.
17 minutes of development time seems to produce a reasonably printable negative.
And as is the case with many strongly stained pyro films, there are advantages
to having a negative that's a little bit on the thin side.
The toe and shoulder of the film are long, and probably my
next major experiment is to try reprinting some of these shots on VC paper using
split-contrast techniques to see if I can draw a little more black density out
of the lower zones. My first printing attempt was with a Aristo V54 cold-light
head and a variant of the old Defender 55D formula (dilution 1:2) on Sterling
paper. And in the interest of having a more "honest" test of the
film I didn't do any burning or dodging in this first pass.
I may also follow up this "pre daylight" experiment with a series of experiments
using Hoya filter R72 (which passes light only at wavelengths greater than 720nm) and Wratten filters 87A-C, 88A, and 89B (which are all opaque to the
visible but transparent in the infrared. It's my expecation that using these filters effective film speed will be much slower.
Bottom line: I'll probably use this film again, and I probably
will shoot a few nudes with it. Heck, I was bold and bought ten rolls of 120
and three of 35mm, and to date I've only used three of the 120 rolls and two
of the 35mm. So I've got enough leftover that I've got to find something to
do with it. But no fool I, I will probably also shoot a visible light (or possibly
even orthochromatic) film at the same time I shoot a film that dips down into
the IR. Sara looked spectacular in the IR, but Sara also has a professional
model's flawless complexion. The rest of us might not be so blessed. And I'm
concluding that using IR film is something of a hit-or-miss affair. And until
you've seen the negatives, it's hard to tell whether you've hit or missed.
Maybe that, like all things, will come with time and practice. After all, with
conventional films, I can pretty much tell now when I've heard the shutter clunk
whether I've got a winner. Film development is a formality with most films.
Not so IR820C.